This review *contains spoilers*. For a spoiler-free look, check out my review here. Also disclaimer, this review was written BEFORE my Midnight Horizon review, Because that’s the order I read them in.
Might I also take this moment to say that if you’re the type that doesn’t read the middle grade, please do yourself a favour and change that. They’re some of the best stories being told in this era, and I promise you won’t regret it.
I always look forward to the middle grade High Republic books. They’re great at distilling the heart of the conflict for the particular wave, and for checking in on the younger characters. They are pure heart with just the right amount of action and they keep character development at the core. With this latest one, it manages to be all those things while also keeping in mind the future of High Republic storytelling. Not an easy feat, but one it manages brilliantly. This is Mission to Disaster by Justina Ireland.
Shortly before the events of The Fallen Star, the Nihil attack Port Haileap, where Avon Starros is once again living and apprenticing under Professor Glenna Kip. When she doesn’t manage to hide herself in time, the marauders grab her and take her prisoner. Suspecting they might recognize her last name – since her mother is a Senator – she lies about her identity, but soon realized it’s not a ransom they want. Rather, they are looking to recruit. Avon stands out due to her proficiency with machines and technology, and is given into the service of Dr. Mkampa, a Nihil scientist looking into the use of kyber crystals to power weaponry beyond lightsabers.
Meanwhile, Vernestra Rwoh and her Padawan Imri Cantaros are on a training retreat when Vernestra gets a sudden vision of Avon in danger. The two of them depart at once for Port Haileap, then later Dalna in search of their missing friend. On arrival, they meet the Jedi of the Dalna temple: Master Nyla Quinn, and Jedi Knights Yacek and Lyssa, who tell them that the local population does not much care for the Jedi or their presence, although they tolerate it.
Despite the hostile welcome, Vernestra, Imri, and the Dalna Jedi join forces with Vernestra and Imri’s friend Honesty and his friend Sha’nai to track down the Nihil activity in the sector and rescue Avon.
4 Things I Liked (and 1 I Wanted More Of)
1. The references to Dalna pick up steam
Throughout the earlier novels and comics, the world of Dalna has become a reoccurring phrase. Marchion’s cousin Kufa mentions a massacre on Dalna. The Jedi make offhand mention of it throughout the comics. We know that is where Honesty Weft is from. We also know at the start of The Fallen Star that that is where the Starlight Beacon had gone most recently to help the citizens in trouble.
It was wonderful, then, to finally spend some significant time on Dalna. While Honesty did previously mention the insular nature of the people on the planet, we got to see all that firsthand. This is likely an important setup for the second wave of stories, since much of their mistrust of the Jedi comes from something Honesty calls “The Night of Sorrow” that happened approximately a century prior. With Phase Two jumping back by 150 years, I suspect the story is going to build up to (and possibly include) that Night of Sorrow, retroactively giving additional context to Phase One.
Because Star Wars is nothing if not a story told out of order.
2. Spending more time among the Nihil
One persistent wish I’ve had so far with The High Republic is to spend more time among the Nihil. Considering they are the “villains” of the whole thing, and each leader has machinations and plots of their own, we haven’t spent all that much time with them relatively speaking.
Sure, we spend time with Marchion Ro and Lourna Dee, and some time with Nan as well, but what about the inner workings of the Tempests? The every day Nihil, so to speak? Granted, we don’t get a ton of time from their POV here either, but we do still get a closer look via Avon Starros, who is taken captive by them in a bid for them to get more recruits.
Though her, we get to see the chaotic power plays at work. None of them seem all that interested in whatever grand plan Marchion Ro is cooking up, but instead make smaller, personal bids for power. Dr. Mkampa, for instance, is given the range and resources to conduct the experiments she wants, no matter how unethical it may seem.
It’s hard for the Nihil not to feel like a monolith, with the odd renegade like Lourna Dee, so breaking them down into smaller factions and seeing that every last one is holding it together with wishes and duct tape offers much needed insight into our baddies.
3. The complexities of Avon Starros
While she fights and lives on the side of good (for now) if anyone of these kids in The High Republic has the potential to accidentally become a mad scientist mastermind entirely by accident, it’s Avon Starros. She is a science whiz with a curious mind that enjoys diving into the root of the problem and puzzling it out. But she, like so many well-intentioned scientists and innovators before her, doesn’t consider how others might use her work for less benevolent/objective applications.
Take her curiosity with harnessing the power of kyber crystals, two centuries before Galen Erso would attempt the same. It took very little time for Dr. Mkampa to try and twist it into a weapon the Nihil could use, and it was only quick thinking that helped Avon avoid that fate.
She also has a curious way of viewing the world around her. When she bargains for time to “lord her new position over the other prisoners”, really a cover for helping them all escape, she begins to idly wonder if she might be taking things too far. Why should she harm Dr. Mkampa, when the doctor was nothing but kind to her? As an older reader, I recognize what she’s going through, but this question of where her loyalties lie is an interesting one, especially since it will likely come up again with her mother.
Those who read The Fallen Star know that Ghirra Starros is working with the Nihil (and then some *wink*. I’m sorry, I’m literally just jealous), something she accidentally-but-not-quite lets slip in front of Avon. Though Avon doesn’t have the full story, its enough for her to be suspicious of her mother, something that will likely once again trigger this question of where her loyalty should lie regarding the woman who raised her and did her best by her.
4. The Calm Before the Storm
I mentioned this in my non-spoiler review too, but one of my favourite parts about Mission to Disaster is how unlike the other middle grade books, this one takes place prior to the major crisis that dominates the wave.
Because Vernestra and Imri don’t have a major Jedi crisis to respond to, and because their lives aren’t on the line the entire time with imminent death on the horizon, they get the chance to slow down and problem solve, building on their existing character development that we’ve seen in A Test of Courage and Out of the Shadows. Imri has a much better handle on his empathic abilities, and Vernestra doesn’t seem quite on the verge of a breakdown anymore (though the events of The Fallen Star might change that).
Though there is still a high-stakes problem to solve, this one feels like the big inhale. The moment to breathe before the chaos begins to unfold. Pauses like this are rare in huge, sweeping stories, which makes them all the more appreciated.
5. Honesty’s Point Of View
Though it was a nice surprise to see Honesty again, I did find myself missing out on his point of view. In A Test of Courage, he is one of 4 POV characters, and is the only one to not reprise his point of view in this book.
I miss his insight especially because this more than the earlier book would have been the perfect time to have it. We have the two Jedi on their mission, we have Avon with the Nihil, and Honesty would have provided the much-needed Dalna perspective, especially given how cagey they are with the Jedi. Not to mention, Honesty is such an endearing character, I can’t quite get enough time spent with him.
I suspect the reason for this is that due to Phase Two’s likely focus on Dalna and the “Night of Sorrow”, the Project Luminous team doesn’t want to tip their hand too early
Vernestra had a memory of helping Master Stellan and when I tell you I broke down…
We learn in The Fallen Star that senator Ghirra Starros is the Marchion Ro’s Republic informant and that the two are having an affair on the side. Obviously the more salacious side of things doesn’t come up in this book, but I do find it hysterical how Ghirra absolutely forgets to filter out the Nihil knowledge she isn’t supposed to have, leaving Avon deeply (and naturally) suspicious. Ghirra’s so relieved at seeing her daughter she starts name-dropping left, right, and centre. Such is the power of Marchion Ro’s- you know what, I’m going to stop there.
The Purgill-class Halcyon cruiser makes a canon appearance! This cruiser is the same “Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser” that you can book a trip on!
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